Is social media fuelling hatred and contempt in Britain?

jo cox mp

The late Jo Cox MP. Pic credit: BBC



The killing of MP  Jo Cox has caused many people to pause and question whether political debate is becoming too callous and extreme because of the  way social media and Twitter in particular encourage polarised views.

Today’s Inforrm blog carries a very thoughtful article from Sharon Coen, a senior lecturer in media psychology at Salford University. Her article as you can see here is mainly framed about political debate.

However what she says says about politics can easily be extended to the way trolls treat women and survivors of child sex abuse.

As she says on politics: “The adversarial communication style we see in politics today is certainly counterproductive and polarises opinions. Disagreement is great and is at the heart of democracy. But, as political scientist Susan Bickford argues, it is only by really listening to other people’s positions, not just discarding them, that the democratic process can be successful. And – as in face to face interaction among politicians or televised debates – the internet has proved so bad at enabling people to listen to each other that there are now attempts to redesign the way we communicate online to make us better listeners.”

On social media she says:

“Social media …is a double-edged sword. On the positive side, it fosters political engagement both on and offline. For example, in a small (unpublished) study I conducted, I found that when people used the internet to debate and comment on news online, they were also more likely to be politically active in the real world. Again, this is in line with other research in the area.

“But (my emphasis in bold) social media also fosters polarisation. People tend to connect to like-minded people – and engage with content that reflects their pre-existing attitudes and beliefs. Social media focuses political debate even further around individuals who have active profiles on social media sites. It can effectively put a big neon target on them, attracting more personal abuse from those who disagree with them.”

She goes on:”The recent launch of the Reclaim the Internet campaign has highlighted the amount of abuse individuals (and women in particular) are subjected to online. The issues of cyberbullying and cybermisogyny are ones that deserve serious consideration for the negative impact they can have on the recipients of such abuse.”

In my view this aggressive stance by some people – often more aimed at women than men – is becoming particularly nasty with MPs like Jo Cox (before she was killed) and Jess Phillips, Mp for Birmingham, Yardley, being recent targets.

I am also thinking of child sex abuse survivors like Esther Baker – whose allegations are the current subject of a police investigation – who has suffered egregious abuse on line from people who claim not to beleive her.

It is time that these bullies and cowards put up and shut up. They should think before they tweet. Would they say  that to a person’s face in public? If not why say it on line behind some anonymous or not so anonymous twitter handle? Their actions also encourage  more hate and division but most of them are not man enough ( yes they are mostly men!) to stand up in public and say what they think.

The problem  is that this type of behaviour is beginning to have nasty consequences and turning this country into a nasty place to live.


9 thoughts on “Is social media fuelling hatred and contempt in Britain?

  1. The answer is yes and no. I have experienced as many others have nasty and irresponsible tweets on Twitter although I have said things intended to provoke response. As a student of all sorts of social media and communication since the Internet was first created I have noted that people detach themselves from the reality what they are doing and its potential impact as well as not understanding he openness and personal life lasting records of what they say and show.

    However it is also important to appreciate that ever since social media communication was said to have been responsible for the Arab Spring in Egypt governments including our own have worked out how to pull the plug if required and also how to use the media as well as a monitor it (using terrorism, organised crimes and child abuse as the rational basis).The government used one agency to influence social attitudes and behaviour and then also set up a special security unit one of whose functions I assume is to monitor and use social media. However it is important to also take into account that international organisations governmental, commercial and criminal together with public relations enterprises will also be using the media platforms creating accounts, or persuading exiting to users to act for them etc. As there is need to keep reminding the appearance of anything is only one aspects of its reality

    Already government and opposition the In and out campaigns have spent time working out how to use the assassination of Jo Cox to the advantage of their cause . And no one should be fooled by what is said on Monday by the male leaders and other males of the political parties with the exception of the Labour Leader in terms of endorsing the need for change when there is no intention to abandon adversarial and competitive politics and to use personal attacks directly and indirectly without regard to their negative consequences.
    It was good to see David Cameron half admit this when he spoke in Birstall on Friday, especially as he had led he has led the assault on the Labour’s leader, and no doubt in the knowledge that he has had the support from member of shadow cabinet as well as those who have declared their hatred of him openly. Colin J Smart


  2. Thanks David. Over recent months I have been studying issues around the humanitarian response to the refugee and vulnerable migrant flows into Europe and I have been astonished at the vitriol and abuse that follows any online reporting on the subject. On average I would estimate that over 90% of the comments are nasty or abusive and a majority are openly racist. Depending on the site of publication many of the comments so nasty that they are removed by the moderators. I am convinced that the ability to hurl abuse whilst remaining anonymous is at the root of the nasty and abusive online culture. People would surely moderate their abuse if they were required use their legal names and be accountable for what they write? If you are aware of any campaigns to remove online anonymity, I’d be grateful if you could let me know.
    All the best


    • John

      If I come across any I will let you know – it would certainly reduce the venom in society on issues like refugees and immigration as well as the nasty abuse of women.


    • John, some social media commenters are quite happy to have their identities known while still enjoying the opportunity to be (fastidiously and cleverly) nasty and abusive.

      Jo Cox’s death has just triggered another sophisticatedly exploitative piece by the author of the Anna Raccoon blog at Although she doesn’t like to be referred to by her married name, the author’s willing to answer to her unmarried name of Suzanne Campbell-Blackie, by which she’s known in other areas of public domain activity.

      Although the atmosphere in the “Raccoon Arms Snug” is just slightly less toxic than it used to be, back in the days when her less wary followers verged on the indiscreet in discussing their attitudes towards allegations of child sexual abuse, nevertheless the meanness of spirit is still well up front, as exemplified by her savaging of “Jo Cox’s still warm corpse”.

      She’s a great one for pointing out other people’s hypocrisy but never quite manages to recognise her own. She’s really done herself proud with this latest spew of bile and has been relishing the response of her followers.


  3. Hatred and contempt has always existed, Mr Hencke, it is just that modern media amplifies and extends the range of folks who get to hear the manifestations of that hatred and contempt.

    If you hear paki bashers moithing off in a pub, you are probably one of under 50 people who heard it. If the same paki bashers mouths off on Facebook or Twitter, 50,000 could easily be exposed.

    Racist chanting at football grounds used to be heard by 20,00, now millions hear of it as social media amplifies it.

    Of course, positive loving messages are also amplified.

    But that is not news in the eyes of journalists, who contribute to societal mental ill-health with their never-ending publicity for hateful negative emotions.


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